Never mind the strong upfront ad sales for broadcast and cable networks. The slowing economy is “finally starting to impact marketers’ budgets,” UBS Investment Research analyst John Janedis said in a report today as he downgraded his investment recommendations for Discovery Communications and Time Warner and lowered his stock-price targets for Scripps Networks and Viacom. He says the cheering from upfront sales will be short-lived: Broadcasters sold $9.3 billion in inventory, up about 6% from last year, while he expects cable networks to record about $9.2 billion in orders, up about 15% from last year. But advertisers will cancel a lot of those orders later this year. The scatter market “has finally started to slow, which could impact results as early as” the third quarter, he says. Janedis also is concerned about the declining ratings at broadcast networks and says that “cable is also at risk of losing a portion of its audience to other platforms” including online services such as Netflix. The fears about slowing ad sales led him to change his view of Discovery and Time Warner to “neutral” from “buy.” Time Warner has an additional problem in film. With the soft start to Green Lantern, “the success of (Time Warner’s) superhero strategy in a post-Harry Potter world is not a foregone conclusion,” Janedis says.
At its upfront presentation in New York this evening, top-rated USA Network is set to unveil a development slate that underscores its commitment to get into the half-hour comedy business with five comedies in the works, including one starring Nathan Lane, one produced by Walter Parkes and Laurie Macdonald and one with former American Idol judge Kara DioGuardi on board as consulting producer. While launching original half-hour series has been something newly minted USA co-presidents Jeff Wachtel and Chris McCumber had been looking to do for a while, now the two are finally making the push with the goal to have half-hour series on the air by the 2013 launch of the network’s high-profile off-network acquisition Modern Family. As there is no rush, Wachtel said half-hour development will be a “slower process” as “we have to find the right show.” An area where the network is putting a lot of pressure is unscripted, especially after the successful recent launch of WWE Tough Enough. USA is looking to unspool its first follow-up reality series later this year. As for the half-hour comedy projects, while the network launched its hourlong series brand with projects in turnaround, including Monk and The Dead Zone, more than half of the half-hour shows on the slate are “purely original development,” Wachtel said. Exceptions include the Nathan Lane starrer On We Go, which was a spec, and Fox 21′s We the Jury, which was developed elsewhere. Meanwhile, the hourlong projects on USA’s development slate, which hail from such producers as Mark Gordon, Doug Liman and Dave Bartis, feature characters that are “more provocative” than the leads on the network’s current series, McCumber said.
Additionally, USA is returning to the limited series genre with The Enclave, a project from writers Andrea and Maria Jacquemetton (Mad Men), which Boys Don’t Cry helmer Kimberly Peirce is in negotiations to direct. USA had success with all three of its previous limited-series efforts — Traffic, The 4400 and The Starter Wife — the last two also spawning series. “It’s a way to broaden the feel and reach of the network,” McCumber said. USA also will announce a new hourlong Hollywood special with Vanity Fair West Coast editor Krista Smith interviewing three celebrities. While it has been ordered as a one-off, the network is open to doing more if the special is successful. USA has been looking to get into the daily talk show arena, and the Smith special is part of those efforts. Here is a list of USA’s scripted series now in development: